Licensing Procedure

If your International Driver’s Permit (IDP) expires or you never got one from your home country and you want to drive in Japan, you will need to go through the process of getting a Japanese driver’s license. The process can easily take more than a month, and the complexity/what’s involved basically depends which country you are from. Be sure to start as early as possible.

This translated PDF from the Saga Prefectural Police is a good way of seeing what documents are expected from you as well as general information (note the prices will be slightly more due to the tax increase of 2014).

Though there are a few exceptions, the difference is essentially whether you are from a Commonwealth or non-Commonwealth country. Below is a basic outline of what you can expect.

Commonwealth JETs (except Jamaica, South Africa)

  1. Get a translation of your home country licence from the JAF (check here for more info)
  2. Go to the license center in Saga City with all your documents and fill in an application form
  3. While you are at the license center, make an appointment to come back for an interview
  4. Go back to the license center a second time for your interview, an eye test, and payment
  5. Go to the card-issuing center next door (same day) and wait to receive your license

*If you call ahead and make an appointment at the license center to have an interview rather than just dropping in whenever, there MAY be a possibility that you can get everything done in one day as opposed to having to go back twice. Considering you will probably have to take nenkyuu this is the better option if possible!

Since Commonwealth JETs do not have to do a driving test OR the written test, the interview is quite long. In the interview you will be asked a variety of questions regarding your driving history and experience in the country where your driver’s license was processed. Come prepared being able to answer many questions about how you obtained your license in your home country. Patience is key and brush up on the details beforehand if it has been a while since you took your original license test.

If you are concerned about having trouble through the interview and overall process there are translators available through SPIRA (Saga Prefecture International Relations Association). Translators are friendly volunteers from around Saga. There is no official set cost but it is recommended that you do pay your translator a fee you are comfortable with. Volunteers can meet you at the license center but you are expected to still find your own method of transport there (standard liability factor).

If you are interested in finding a translator you can either visit the SPIRA office, email, or call and ask for an English speaking staff member to help you.

Contact SPIRA:

840-0826, Saga Shoko Building. level 1, 2-1-12 Shirayama, Saga City. SPIRA is open Monday – Saturday 8:30 AM to 17:15 PM (*except for unscheduled closings due to building maintenance, weather etc.), Phone: 0952-25-7921.

Non-Commonwealth JETs (plus Jamaica, South Africa)

Due to a bureaucratic hangup with the communication of licensing and road safety standards between non-Commonwealth countries (plus Jamaica and South Africa), people hailing from these countries have to pass the practical driving test to prove their mettle.

  1. Get a translation of your home country license from the JAF
  2. Go to the license center in Saga City with all your documents and fill in an application form
  3. While you are at the license center, make an appointment to come back for the practical road test
  4. Go back to the license center for at least one lesson on the driving course before the test
  5. Return to the license center for the multiple-choice written test and practical driving test (may or may not be the same day as your lesson)
  6. If you pass, go to the card-issuing center next door (same day) and wait to receive your license

So as you can see the process is very similar, except for the need to take lessons and the practical driving test. Remember that even if you are a fantastic driver on the road, the driving test is essentially about copying exactly what your instructor does on the driving center course, so you need to have at least one ‘lesson’ to see what you are supposed to do. Unfortunately if you fail the test the first time (which is very likely), you have to retake it until you pass.

Also bear in mind that you may need to take nenkyuu to do this, since appointments are only available on weekday afternoons between 1pm and 3pm. As a result, it is highly recommended to start the process as early as possible – ideally a few months before you absolutely must have your license.

For more information on the procedure at the licensing center, including tips on how to pass the practical test, visit this page.

How to get to the License Center

The licensing center is located in the northern part of Saga City and is best accessed by car, though taking a bus and biking are valid options.

Bus

Take bus #30 from platform 2 at the  Saga Station Bus Center bound for the driver licensing center.

The bus leaves every 10 and 40 minutes after the hour and take about 35 minutes.

Get off at the bus stop near the Driver’s License Center  (unten menkyo sentaa / 運転免許センター), the terminal.

Cost: approximately ¥520 one way.

Driving/Biking

Use this address on Google Maps: 佐賀県運転免許センター 〒849-0901佐賀市久保泉町大字川久保2269番地.

Telephone: 095-298-2220

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